“No Peace Without Justice”: Families of Italian Mafia Victims Await Closure | Human rights
VSlingering over his son’s coffin, Vincenzo Agostino solemnly swore that he would not cut his hair or beard until justice was served. It was August 10, 1989, five days after two Mafia hitmen on motorcycles killed Antonino Agostino, a policeman, and his wife, Ida, who was five months pregnant.
The couple were shot dead in broad daylight on the seafront promenade in Villagrazia di Carini, a town about 20 miles from Palermo. Vincenzo witnessed his son’s agony when the killers fired a magazine full of bullets at him. He saw his heartbroken daughter-in-law approaching her husband in a vain attempt to console him.
Last month, a judge released a report revealing how Antonino Agostino was murdered because he was investigating fugitive Mafiosi. One of the killers, Mafia boss Nino Madonia, was sentenced to life in prison in March. It was a small step forward, despite many unanswered questions and the fact that many of those involved in the murder are still at large.
The conviction reignited the debate in Italy over the slowness of the legal process and the atrocious struggle for the judicial shutdown of family members of innocent mafia victims.
Thirty-two years later, Vincenzo has kept his promise: his long beard now reaches his chest and has become a symbol of resistance against mafia bosses and for the long quest for the truth in the face of hundreds of relatives of victims of organized crime. in Italy.
According to a report by the anti-mafia association Libera, nearly 80% of the approximately 600 cases of innocent victims of organized crime in Italy have only been partially resolved or are not resolved at all. Most investigations have been closed for lack of evidence, while many more are trapped in protracted trials and dozens are awaiting prosecution.
The distress and frustration carried by those close to the victims causes a series of psychological problems, such as depression, panic attacks, suicidal thoughts and post-traumatic stress. The Guardian has visited four regions in southern Italy with a history of organized crime, interviewing parents and children of mafia victims who, decades after the murder of their loved one, are asking for cases to be reopened.
For more than 30 years, Vincenzo Agostino has relentlessly pursued prosecutors to convince them to reopen the investigation into the death of his son, which has been closed dozens of times. During an earlier investigation, it was revealed that during the violent war that the Mafia waged against the Italian state during these years, Antonino worked as a secret agent tasked with locating the fugitive Mafia. His death exposed the alleged relationship between members of the Italian secret service and Mafia bosses, which continues to be the focus of investigations today.
“Today, one thing is clear: a notable member of the state betrayed my son Antonino and informed the Mafia of his role as a secret agent,” explains Vincenzo. “Who are the unfaithful and deceptive institutional representatives who betrayed this country and served the death sentences of members of the police and the judiciary? No, it’s not time to cut my beard yet.
In a police line in 2016, Vincenzo chose a colleague of his son who was involved in the murder. For this reason, at the age of 86, he is forced to live under police protection 24 hours a day.
“Watching your unborn son, daughter-in-law and grandson destroys your life. I have a crater-sized wound in my heart, ”says Vincenzo. He and his wife, Augusta, fought the battle to find their son’s murderers. Augusta died in 2019. On her tombstone, next to her son in the cemetery of Santa Maria di Gesù in Palermo, is inscribed: “Here lies Augusta, mother of Antonino, who still awaits truth and justice.
In another cemetery, about 200 miles away, in the territory of the Calabrian ‘Ndrangheta, another father knocks on his son’s gravestone. He asks if he can hear it and wants to know what it is like up there in Heaven. The father’s name is Martino Ceravolo and he says he has not known peace since the ‘Ndrangheta mistakenly killed his 19-year-old son Filippo on October 25, 2012 near Soriano Calabro.
“That evening, Filippo had planned to visit his girlfriend, who lived in a small town four kilometers from here,” said Martino, 52, who ran a candy stand with his son. “His car wasn’t running, so he tried to hitchhike. A young man from Soriano Calabro offered to take him there. Unfortunately, he ended up in the wrong car the wrong night.
At that time, a violent war raged within the ‘Ndrangheta between the powerful Emanuele clan and the Loiero clan. Filippo couldn’t have known that Domenico Tassone, who had given him a lift, was on the rival clan’s results list. At around 10 p.m., four men surrounded Tassone’s car and started shooting. Bullets intended for Tassone hit Filippo in the head and chest.
“When I got to the scene of the crime, my whole world fell apart,” says Martino, who takes tranquilizers every day to deal with his panic attacks. “Tassone left the car shouting, ‘They wanted to kill me!’ He miraculously survived, as Filippo lay on the ground in a pool of blood. “
The Filippo case was closed for lack of evidence, although prosecutors have identified the four men responsible for the attack, who continue to control the local area. “These criminals took my son’s life – and ours too,” says Martino.
One of Martino’s daughters suffers from depression and his wife attempted suicide three years ago after her son’s case was closed again.
“We were abandoned without any psychological support,” says Martino. “I too thought about killing myself. I thought about setting myself on fire in front of the Ministry of Justice.
The psychological impact on families can be devastating, especially in cases of “ambiguous loss”, in which the bodies of victims are never found. Close family members living in constant limbo can develop severe depression or alcoholism.
“After my father died, I suffered from anxiety and panic attacks for years, while my mother suffered from depression all her life,” said Daniela Marcone, 52, vice president of Libera.
Daniela’s father, Francesco, was shot dead on the evening of March 31, 1995 in the stairwell of his apartment building by a local mafia killer from Foggia, Puglia. He was the director of the state tax agency, which had denounced corruption in his office and tax evasion from several companies.
Despite the fact that Marcone’s murder was a manual Mafia murder, her case remains unsolved. “I know of mothers who have contacted Mafia bosses, begging them to reveal the location of the body, just so they can give their child an honorable burial.”
The wait for justice can become so frustrating that many relatives of victims have become pseudo-detectives. When Angelina Landa realized that the police were not investigating the death of her father, Michele, a 62-year-old security guard who was allegedly killed by the Neapolitan Camorra, she decided to take matters into her own hands.
In 2006, the Casalesi clan of the Camorra mafia, which inspired the television series Gomorrah, turned to the lucrative business of stealing industrial phone batteries. Michele had been assigned to guard a Vodafone relay near Mondragone, Campania, which was controlled by the Camorra. His charred body was found on September 5, 2006 inside his small Fiat.
“My brothers and I agreed that we had to act quickly,” says Angelina, 48, a teacher. “Five days after his disappearance, we jumped over the fence where the police had moved his burnt out car. Among the ashes we found his bones. After five days, they still had not removed his remains from the car.
Investigators closed the case after a few months, citing the lack of evidence.
Another aggravating factor in the resolution of cases is omertà, the Mafia’s code of silence. “Mafiosi rarely testify against their own, including against their rivals,” explains Marcone.
“In a mafia murder, it is difficult to find witnesses among ordinary people, especially in small towns where organized criminal groups are deeply rooted and omertà is a social phenomenon, ”she says. “People are reluctant to come forward because they fear reprisals from the bosses. “
“The code of silence is the basis of the strength of the Mafia,” explains Federico Cafiero De Raho, national anti-Mafia prosecutor. “Mafia murder investigations can be very complicated. A boss-ordered murder never has a single perpetrator, but a chain of perpetrators. This makes the investigation difficult, unless an arrested mobster decides to speak out. “
Paradoxically, the hope of reopening Mafia cases is sometimes in the hands of the same people who committed these murders: Mafiosi who are arrested and decide to collaborate with prosecutors in exchange for reduced sentences. In recent years, such cases have brought to light many “cold cases”.
“I flip through the newspaper every day hoping to find news of a recent Mafia renegade,” Marcone explains. “I realize it’s frustrating, but I’ve never looked for vendetta, only justice. And until I find him, I’ll keep knocking on my son’s grave to let him know that I haven’t given up.
“Without justice, there is no peace,” he said. “Neither for me nor for him. “